Judge Weighs Request to Open Priest-Abuse Records
Newspapers Press for Case Files to Be Made Public

By Lawrence Buser
Commercial Appeal
April 2, 2009

A special judge Thursday indicated he may release sealed documents from a recently settled priest sex-abuse case, but only after some editing is done to protect alleged victims and priests with unsubstantiated charges.

Retired Circuit Court Judge Charles O. McPherson asked attorneys for the Catholic Diocese of Memphis and The Dominicans to submit their proposed edited versions of the depositions and pleadings by May 4 for his review.

"As I think they say in the newspaper business, I'm going to take a blue pencil to it," said McPherson, meaning he will be the final arbiter of whose names are deleted and whose are released. "If I find no real reason a name should not to be revealed, I'm ruling it should be released. But if there's a case from 1956 and a priest was never charged and there's no proof, I don't think he should be subjected to public scrutiny."

The judge's remarks came after a two-hour hearing in which attorneys for The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Daily News argued that a blanket protective order in the case since 2006 should be lifted because the documents are judicial records that should be open for public inspection.

One major study showed 10,667 claims by minors of sexual abuse by priests over the past 50 years, said attorney Richard Hollow of Knoxville, who is representing The Commercial Appeal.

"If that is not a public issue, then we would be hard-pressed to find one," said Hollow. "This issue has to have a public airing."

The newspapers sought access to the records after a $2 million settlement was reached in February in a sex-abuse case of a 14-year-old Memphis boy, identified only as John R. Doe, who was abused by Father Juan Carlos Duran in 2000.

The Catholic Diocese of Memphis and Duran's order, The Dominicans, agreed to the settlement, but with the understanding that the protective order sealing the Diocese's records of other abuse allegations going back decades would remain intact.

"There are allegations that have never been argued and never decided," said Diocesan attorney Marty Reagan. "We do not want to try this case in the media. There are names with these allegations, but we don't know if they're credible."


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